Point of View

Point of View

The Power of Commitment: Mindfulness Is Only the Beginning

By Ryan Howes

March/April 2015

We Americans believe profoundly not only in the pursuit of happiness, but in our unalienable right to obtain it. Despite roughly 5,000 years of written evidence to the contrary, we believe it isn’t normal to be unhappy. That’s why we have so many approaches to therapy and so many therapists. In general, we don’t want to stick around with psychological pain a second longer than necessary to get it excised from our life.

The problem is, according to Steven Hayes, professor at the University of Nevada, former Haight-Ashbury hippie turned behaviorist, and the developer of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), we’ve got it backwards. In fact, it’s suffering and struggle that are normal—and not the reverse. Furthermore, dealing with our inevitable psychic struggles by trying to get rid of them doesn’t work and may actually make them worse.

Instead of countering and correcting our negative thoughts, as classic cognitive therapy argues we should do, Hayes believes we should acknowledge those thoughts, accept them rather than challenge them, and then get on with living as full and worthwhile a life as we can. That’s the commitment part of ACT, and the tough-minded part as well. Hayes has stated elsewhere, “When we learn how to just notice our depressive thoughts and feel our feelings as feelings, deliberately and fully, it turns out that we can begin to live again, right now, even with depressed feelings or depressogenic thoughts. And when we do that, we…

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